A long time ago, when just starting out in digital project management I remember a mentor of mine giving me a line to use in an interview when he heard the Head of Web Development would be in on the interview, he told me to make sure I say:
My role as a Digital Project Manager is to make the web developer’s jobs stress-free.
At the time I thought this was just a fancy little trick to make the guy give me an interview gold star from his point of view, however, in my subsequent years as a Digital Project Manager I’ve come to realise this wasn’t just a nice line to use – it’s actually one of the core principles of being a good Digital Project Manager and actually extends further than web developers.
I now believe that one underlying line in any Digital Project Manager Job description should be:
My role as Digital Project Manager is to make everyone’s job as productive and stress-free as possible.One of my mentors
With focus on web designers and developers, but true for the whole project team, let me explain…
Web Team Expertise Focus
Over the years I’ve seen digital agencies making big mistakes when it comes to effective digital project management. One of the most common mistakes was having production team members e.g. web designers and developers performing digital project management tasks rather than keeping them focussed on what they do best, designing and developing.
Web designers and web developers are highly skilled people and nothing will destroy their passion, productivity and morale quicker than having them involved in areas of a digital project that stop them from doing what they love and do best, designing and developing.
The range of tasks that can stop these experts from doing what they’re hired to do are endless, but what is finite is that when it comes to digital project team management, one primary goal of a Digital Project Manager is to do everything within their power to ensure these guys and gals don’t get sidetracked or bogged down in things that will reduce the quality of their work.
The minute this happens the effectiveness of the team is diluted, momentum is reduced and Digital Project Managers need to understand this.
Whether you used to be a web designer or developer or not, you have to appreciate that when these guys are in the zone and working hard to meet deadlines you probably set out for them, stopping to answer the phone, an e-mail or an ad hoc question can seriously break their flow and it takes time to get back into it.
Digital Project Managers Are Stress Sponges
Another key aspect of being a good Digital Project Manager is to keep the production teams as stress-free as possible by absorbing as much stress for them as you can.
Although never on any Digital Project Manager Job description, it should be assumed that part of the role is to basically take crap on behalf of your team in such a way that they don’t even get a whiff of it, even if they’re the cause of it.
During a digital project, there are a zillion things that will happen that will cause stress, but a test of your team management leadership skills is to see how much of this stress you can personally absorb in such a way that your production team don’t feel the heat, why?
Simply because a stressed web designer or developer will not work as well as a happy one.
Why Should I Take All The Crap!?
Many Digital Project Managers out there have asked this question and it’s a valid one, but the answer is because it’s your job.
Think about it, your boss right now, do you think he or she is completely open with all members of their company about all the issues that exist right now? Of course not. While they may be transparent with many about certain workflow or revenue concerns they don’t bother the design or development teams with tax or buildings insurance issues.
There is a reason for this, it’s because it would serve no purpose other than to make everyone worry, and what happens when people are worried? They start to feel negative and this will only result in a negative impact across the entire company.
Although a rather elaborate example, the theory is the same as to why you as a Digital Project Manager should take all the crap you can and shield your digital project team from it – because your job is to keep your team positive, motivated and focussed on their job – and if this means taking some crap you know you don’t deserve then so be it.
If you don’t like the sound of this then you have no business being a Digital Project Manager or a manager of any kind for that matter.
Digital Project Managers Play Rhythm Guitar
If you want to be a good Digital Project Manager you should try to aim to be a rhythm guitarist rather than play lead guitar or sing lead vocals.
By this I mean you should understand that your job is to sit behind the boys and girls that get all the attention for finished products and make sure everything runs smoothly without expecting any glory – for example, in the video below I’m not the pretty boy on lead, but his much wiser looking bandmate on the left… cool eh!
Or as my Dad once told me, a good rhythm guitarist keeps the song going in such a way that when they’re playing you tend not to notice, but if they were taken away you immediately notice and the song falls flat on its face.
I’ve worked on many digital projects in the past where the final website or application was delivered and all the praise was focussed around how beautiful the end product looked or how amazing this or that piece of functionality was – and the point here is that despite no one saying how great the digital project management was, I didn’t mind one bit – I took an enormous amount of silent pleasure at the smiles on the faces of the designers and developers as they were patted on the back.
In many cases only I knew what stresses there was along the way and how much crap I’d taken on behalf of the team, and on occasion how I’d opted to make myself look at fault rather than make sure blame was assigned to who it should’ve been, but I kept it quiet and sat there smiling to myself because I had done my job.
And while this may all sound like some kind of self-proclaimed nobility and humility, it really isn’t. I just adamantly believe that a Digital Project Manager’s greatest success should come in the form of being able to sit back and watch others be praised knowing that behind it all was you – I get more pleasure and satisfaction from that then receiving praise myself and have noticed this is a common trait among Digital Project Managers the more I meet.
But I deserve some credit surely!?
People Aren’t Stupid, Respect Will Come
Of course, Digital Project Managers deserve credit for successful digital projects, but I personally find that this comes over time, but if you’re like me it’s not so much credit that you want, it’s respect, and respect from not only management but the production team too.
In the heat of the moment when you’re taking the crap from someone or for someone, it can often make you question why you’re bothering, after all, Digital Project Managers are just human too. Every part of you wants to shout out that actually it’s not your fault and it’s his or hers, and why should you be suffering all the stress when you’re not at fault.
But if you continually stay strong and show strength of character your manager and production teams will start to notice just what part you play in the success and appreciate it.
This not only means you can look yourself in the mirror at night knowing you’ve retained your dignity when others would’ve play the blame game, but you also gain an awful lot of respect that in the long term will actually reduce your own stress levels as people want to work for you more and more.
It’s kind of a strange philosophy but it seems to work – make your mission to make everyone else look good without ever expecting reward or credit, and somehow you end up looking good and receiving reward and credit.
Anyone who sets out on a mission to make themselves look good and receive reward or credit above their team – always seem to end up looking like dickheads.
So what can you do to minimise getting a ‘dickhead’ label?
Digital Project Manager Anti-Dickhead Tips
Below are my top ten tips of how to make web designer’s and developer’s jobs as easy and stress-free as possible by keeping them focussed on what they do best, which of course makes your digital projects run smoother – if you get some respect along the way then consider it a bonus, not a birthright.
- Try to pick the right moments to disturb them with questions e.g. be observant enough to realise when they’re in ‘the zone’
- Don’t just forward website or application issues to them, try to identify the problem yourself so they can easily replicate the issue and get to work on the solution rather than investigation
- Don’t drag them into meetings they don’t need to be in. If questions come up that they’re best to answer, take a note and get back to whoever once you have the answer
- Be willing to push back clients or other teams if they need more time
- Never say something is urgent when the truth is it’s easier for you to pressure them than to have an awkward conversation with someone else
- Don’t let them work too much overtime to hit a target, if burn out is looking possible, send them home and take crap from the boss yourself
- Have the balls to defend your team to management when it would be easier to blame them
- Don’t gossip with them about digital project politics, keep that to yourself
- Put yourself in their shoes and make sure they get the files and documents they need in an organised manner
- Never ever see yourself as above them
Have you got any anti-dickhead tips for keeping digital production teams focussed and stress-free? Let me know in the comments.
Great post, I always simplify what I do by saying “I make sure designer’s/developer’s jobs are as easy as possible”
Thank you so much for this post.
Just starting out in web project management. I am in my first year in fact, after working previously as a designer and developer.
You’ve hit the nail precisely on the head with the exact sort of approach I was trying to follow but was struggling to word.
@Sylvie, exactly. If you keep reminding yourself of that line and make it your ideal aim, things seem to go a lot better!
@Zanitta, ahhh that’s good to hear (and welcome to the world of web project management :) I think coming from a design AND development background you’re going to be in a great position to understand how to manage people the way YOU would’ve liked :)
Plus, realise that a few times you’ve been cross with Web Project Managers… perhaps you shouldn’t have been ;)
Being a Web Project Manager myself, I can clearly see what you mean. But at the same time, coming from a design and front-end development background, I can also say that this curtesy goes both ways.
Just as a Web Project Manager should shield his team from unnecessary pressure and negative client input, the developers also have to protect my six by delivering quality work.
Unfortunately in the last few projects I had a lot of unnecessary stress because of bugs, from functional issues (data submitted by forms that wasn’t properly stored in the database) to cosmetic issues such as typos in error messages.
Therefore I think its essential that both managers and developers look after each other. If this is not the case, I have no problem with throwing the development team before the bus by putting tight deadlines for bug resolution in place or having them work overtime.
Just as you should shield the developers from your customers, you should shield the customer from your developers.
@Jonathan, you’re absolutely right and perhaps I should have mentioned this in the article. Whenever I take some crap for a production team member it will usually be a gesture of good will that I won’t offer many times before having no reservations about leaving them out to dry if quality is contantly low.
The hope is that by taking one for them, they return the favour out of respect. But you’re right, it does have to be a two-way relationship in the end!
all of your tips are very spot on!
@Joy, glad you think so :)
Thank you….In a month I will be promoted as web project manager, this post really helps me…I am nervous but I am sure my superior sees something in me that can get this job done. Thank you once more
I agree with you and with @Jonathan. You have to be the rock; after all, you’re the foundation for a great looking house. However, if you provide too many pillows and motherly hugs, it can get taken advantage of. I look at project management like fatherhood. Sometimes, you have to use the belt (or the threat of the belt, which is just as intimidating).
Off topic, just found your blog and am budgeting time today to catch up. Well said; thanks for sharing your experience and opinions.
@Shana, thanks for the comment and good luck in your new role! If you have any questions then why not join the Web Project Manager group on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=2944424&trk=hb_side_g Lots of helpful people there :)
@Iceburg, yup, good analogy. I think there are many parallels between managing people and bringing up children like that. Thanks for your comments, hope you enjoy some other posts too!
Excellent, very well explained.
Great post! I just started managing a web site. I was a developer for almost 7 yrs and I understand how “praising a developer can be a great help on their self-esteem” even a “thank you” will make them smile :) Thanks!
@Jennifer, thanks :) and yup, it’s so easy for a busy PM to see production staff as the ‘infantry army’ keeping the machine running… to actually appreciate they’re actual people who work hard all day long is so important.
However, it’s also nice for production staff to realise that this PM snub is not always malicious in nature. Often we’re just so busy on multiple things it’s hard to remember all the best practices when it comes to people management, plus, there are many production people who detest PMs, think them of low value and will rarely be as empathetic to a PM as a PM would be to them…
It always works best when it’s a two-way understanding :)
Great post. I always say if I can make the team successful then the project will be successful and I’ll be successful. Making the team successful is always my main goal and that means getting them whatever support, equipment, software, training they need to do an outstanding job. I only had one team where two members tried to take advantage of this approach. I still believe however, it is the best approach to take.
@Tonya, absolutely. If a Web Project Manager focusses on supporting their team rather than being in control of them, this always produces better project and morale results.
This is a great post, thank you. I’m actually a web & interactive developer who is working under the leadership of a web project manager who is doing nearly everything on your don’t do list and I’m actually looking for advice on what to do if you have a bad web projects manager? There are a lot of problems, chief among them being insane stress & overtime combined with a never-ending task list and a deadline that has been pushed back by almost a year. Yesterday I requested a private meeting with our higher ups and basically requested a little more oversight & said I think our wpm needs some assistance in making decisions, saying no to people and taking our launch date seriously. They agreed & we had a meeting that basically resolved the major hang ups, but I’m anxious that I’ve over-stepped & worry it makes me look bad. Any thoughts/tips?
@Dee, first of all I would say that your heart and passion are in the right place and good management see, respect and value this.
As far as overstepping the mark… well it all depends on how you went about it up until that point in my opinion. Generally if I have issues with any colleagues I’ll try and talk to them about it before anybody else.
However, on the odd occasion you encounter a character who you just know would not enter an honest and blunt conversation with you, or would not even attempt to adjust and improve, but instead try and hang you out to dry, then as unfortunate as it is, I would do what you did and speak to others.
Could your approach make you look bad? Maybe, but I tend to work on a dignity and conscious-based personal rule-set i.e. if I didn’t act in the way I did, would I honestly be able to look myself in the mirror and feel OK about the fact I didn’t have the courage to do what I thought was right… that answer is always no and so I’ve often taken leaps of faith that could see me painting a target on my own back, but the theory is, even if it backfires and this happens, that’s better than being a coward and keeping my head down along with the other sheep.
While I may have ruffled a few feathers along the way, I’ve had pretty positive overall responses to this approach – and it sounds like you had a positive reaction too.
So, a bit of a deep answer, but asking if it makes you look bad I would suggest is perhaps the wrong question?
Very nice post.
I need a suggestion regarding something.
I owe a degree in computer science. I am a newbie project manager in a web development company(open source-PHP) having little development experience(8 months) as I was appointed 8 months after it.
Do that sounds good? because I think a project manager is a person having 4-5 years or even more of professional development experience.
I am a newbie. Does that matter?
Any Guidance will be very helpful :)
@author- hope you can reply to my last post;eagerly waiting :)
@vicky, excellent chasing and not giving up! Some of the most important web project manager attributes :)
With a computer science degree, 8 months commercial development experience and no doubt years more than that in non-commercial experience, I would say you are in a great position to be a web project manager!
The biggest advantage you have is that you understand the technical side of things well enough that you will always be able to talk to developers on their level, not only that, but also translate back and forth between clients – this is really advantageous.
You don’t have to have technical knowledge to be a web project manager, but it seriously helps!
Where you may find yourself lacking is on the commercial side, I know I was when moving from coding to web project management. It took me a long time to stop thinking only about the technical side / implementation of projects and to start thinking about brand, messaging, tone of voice, client and account management and so on.
I’m not sure this is something you can pick up without just experience, but I would advise you to watch and listen carefully to those running your business. Ask about the business side of the agency, billable hours, cashflow etc. looking back I think I wish I’d have done this a little more and learnt a little quicker on that topic.
But in summary, I know web project managers who have zero tech experience and some who have a decade – both kinds of people can be great web project managers and both can be awful ones – you’re in a great position, believe in yourself, dive in and learn :)
@author- THANK YOU so much.Earlier I was thinking that leaving project development will effect my future growth and my career. But Thank you for making believe in Myself.
@vicky, you’re more than welcome :) think of it like this, even if web project management turns out to not be your thing, you could go back to development, but again with an advantage… a developer with a genuine understanding of web project management and the commercial nature of web projects is such a rare and valuable thing! :)
I’m actually to the point that I am looking to hire a web project manager. Including myself, I have a team of 5 developers/designers. I was initially handling the project management/customer service aspect of things for about 6 years. The past two years my business has grown exponentially and the amount of hours I work is insane. Sometimes I can get a phone call from a client and be stuck on the phone for hours. I don’t have to sit here and tell you all the distractions that can happen.
So within this last month or so, I had an epiphany. Why should I keep adding developers/designers to my team when the real piece to the puzzle I’m missing is a project manager? Its 2:22am eastern time and I’m on the Internet searching for the answer to my problems. Your blog article has reinforced my beliefs that if I keep looking, I will find a web pm. that is as passionate about the things you mention in your article as I am to writing code!
I’ve hired one person already to try out as a web pm., it didn’t work out…but part of it is my fault. I don’t exactly have the “job description” written out for the person that joins my team. I kind of left it up to the employee to help me implement the business process that is expected of their role. This person ended up lasting about two weeks, but did teach me a lot about what the position of a web pm in my company means.
This is the first article I have read on your website and I’m blown away. The countless nights I have spent searching for a resource like this and here it is, the holy grail. You are doing us coders and designers a huge favor. We don’t want to deal with the end-user all the time…we want to write the code. When sparks are flying under the keys of my keyboard, I’m enjoying life to the fullest.
I think this is the longest blog comment I have ever left. I will leave this one question. First off, I rent an office. The whole work from home thing just wasn’t my style. Everyone else on my team works remotely and I would really like the web pm. to work locally so that whomever fills the position has the ability to collaborate with me directly. What do you think about this?
With a remote team it seems there is high turnover. Out of the four guys I employ, 2 of them have been with me for 1+ years, and the other 2 are fairly new…I can’t afford to have a high turnover rate with a position like this? Or can I?
Thank you so much for this article!
@Chris, well thank you so much for the kind words, I’m please you found this useful :)
I think it’s always preferable to have staff locally if possible, not that remote teams can’t work, just that it’s a plain fact that locally is just easier. I think given the role is a new one it makes a lot of sense to want your new Web Project Manager to be local.
As far as turnover rate goes, no. A Web Project Manager will take up to six months to be working completely independently, perhaps longer if they need to bring in a whole load of processes for you, your team and clients to follow.
Also, the kind of Web Project Manager you need will likely be a multi-purpose one that also does a bit of pre-sales, account management, admin and more – often duties that those in larger companies don’t have to do.
One option to consider is a freelance Web PM who could come on board for a 3 month period and who could have the remit of not only helping you run projects, but also figuring out what processes you need and putting them in place. Once in place, then you could hire a more junior but enthusiastic permanent web PM who can pick these processes up, get up to speed and then start to refine further with you.
Two weeks is a shockingly short time to lose someone in though so I would be very curious to hear what their reasons were for that!?
@thesambarnes – The reason I lost this person in two weeks may be for two reasons. The first being that she was a “friend” – and the second being that she stated she would have classes starting soon and didn’t know if the classes would get in the way or not…they got in the way obviously.
Someone I talked to said I should not pay an hourly wage but do strictly a percentage based commission. To me it seems like it will be more difficult to find someone who would be up for this approach, what are your thoughts?
So a freelance web pm probably has many clients they do pm work for? I can utilize a freelance web pm to get the business process in place and then start looking for someone more permanent?
@Chris, ah right, that’s not too bad then :)
I personally don’t think you’ll fine anyone willing to work on anything other than a daily rate or annual salary and I don’t blame them! A commission-based deal is the same, if not worse, than when a client says “build my website for this cool new business and instead of paying I’ll give you shares in the company, that will make loads of cash!!” no thanks.
Freelance PMs can have multiple clients, but often you can find contractors who work for you and you alone on a daily rate.
Using this approach is one way to get experienced eyes on your business and it’s web project processes for sure, if you’re willing to / can pay for it.
Why not just advertise for both that and a permanent Web Project Manager and see what comes in?
I know plenty of companies that never actually take their Web Project Manager vacancy down because it’s difficult to find ones that meet the criteria, thus best to make connections with as many as you can at all times.
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I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to
my followers! Wonderful blog and superb style and design.
Now I understand, why there difference lies in Good project management and Bad project management. The post is quite informative and inspiring. I think every manager must read this post atleast once. Then they’ll be able to relate the things stated here with themselves.
Thanks a lot for the post. !!
Awesome, extremely helpful. Thanks